I feel like maybe I’ve mentioned before that Patrick Ness is my favourite writer (YA or otherwise), before? If I haven’t – Hey, Patrick Ness is probably my favourite writer (YA or otherwise).
When I found out he was writing a new YA novel, I was obviously crazy excited. On the morning that proof copies of The Rest of Us Just Live Here became available to booksellers, I’d emailed a plea to Walker for one before half past eight in the morning. Turns out I was not the only one… And Walker had a hard time trying to meet the huge demand for the book. I half jokingly tweeted that I was still desperate to get my copy (after seeing tweets of others holding theirs in their lucky hands)…
…Only to have Mr. Ness respond DIRECTLY to help me get my copy sent to my shop FIRST CLASS. Now, I felt like an absolute arse for having that done, because honestly, I in no way deserve special treatment – I’m an idiot. But it does go a huge way towards highlighting how important fans are to Patrick, and I will forever be grateful to him for that. I will also forever be sorry. SO SORRY. Everyone at Walker are fantastic for being so wonderful about everything.
The Rest of Us is not the story of the end of the world. I mean, the end of the world is going on, but that’s not what the book is about. The super cool indie kids will probably save the day, and die in the process – they normally do. For Mikey, his Sister Mel, and their best friends Jared and Henna, it’s the final year of high school and they just want to graduate and get out of their boring little town. None of them are the chosen ones, they’re just hoping they can get out before someone blows up the school. Again. But graduating from high school is its own ending – maybe not as dramatic as the end of the world, but as a teenager, it is pretty close. Mikey worries about his sister’s old eating problems coming back with a vengeance without him there to keep an eye on her. He worries about Jared and him drifting apart, going to different colleges in the same city. He worries about Henna’s parents taking her on a mission to an African war zone and about never getting to kiss her. He worries about his obsessive compulsive loops that have started to come back, trapping him in dangerous, painful and infuriating cycles of washing or counting. What if he gets stuck in a loop at college and there’s no-one there to stop him? When weird things start happening in the town, the four friends barely even notice it – strange blue lights, dead teenagers and undead deer are hardly their business.There’s much bigger problems to think about – namely the future.
FLAIL. This book is so excellent. So beautiful. So honest and so painful.
Mikey is the narrator of the story, so we see the world through his perpetually anxious mind set. He worries a huge amount about everything around him and that was something I instantly connected with. He has a controlling streak to him, and it’s brave of Ness to give him this negative, jealous and possessive side, but it’s ultimately all in the name of creating a fully formed, realistic character – and he does, he absolutely does. There’s also some underlying themes of being scared of being the least wanted person in the room, of being certain that compliments are platitudes to make him feel better, and that resonated with me really really powerfully. To the point of crying a lot. Mikey is a broken, messy and confused young person, and Ness manages to make him neither saint, nor sinner, which is ultimately the point of The Rest of Us – real people aren’t always heroes. Real people have flaws the size of chasms and that’s okay. Mel, Mikey’s sister, is a fierce, strident and powerful young woman, but she also has her darker sides, and while her eating disorder is discussed mostly in hindsight, it’s still done respectfully but honestly. Her love and dedication for her brother are overwhelming, even through his negativity. Jared is stoic, but he’s full of passion and understanding, and his relationship with Mikey is beautiful, blisteringly honest and filled with bittersweet sadness, as the two of them come to terms with the inevitable drifting apart that comes with growing up; and Henna is wonderfully sweet and understanding, all while filled with her own doubts and making her own mistakes. She seems perfect from Mikey’s perspective, but there’s hidden flaws hinted at in the story that help give her depth beyond what we read.
I absolutely loved the way this story is told. By dropping the “indie kids” story in short snippets at the start of each chapter, we get a glimpse into the epic disaster that’s going on as the backdrop of the coming-of-age story in the foreground. Patrick Ness is able to use trends and stereotypes in YA fiction with a wry sense of irony and a tongue-in-cheek humour, be it references to when all the indie kids fell in beautiful but doomed love with vampires, or when they were beautifully dying of cancer – he captures the tropes perfectly, with just enough of a mix of love and mockery to make the reader smile. It’s a clever way of reflecting our own lives, too, because of course we all live our own little stories against the backdrop of dramatic, awful events that we’re unable to influence.
Ultimately, The Rest of Us is a story of the hope, fear, anxiety and uncertainty that comes with the end of childhood and the trepidation that comes with stepping into the life of adulthood. It condenses the pressures that young people feel at this stage of their life – both from the outside and from the inside, and weaves this sense of melancholy into the very bones of the words it uses. It also portrays mental illness in a blunt, honest and painful way that helps to break up stigmas and stereotypes. OCD is not liking your books in alphabetical order – it’s a dangerous and debilitating disease. In this way, as well others, Ness has created a diversity in his characters that so many books still beg for, and certainly that the community is crying out for.
Look, no-one is surprised in the slightest that I just loved this book. I know, I’m predictable… But it’s going to be another hit.
Thanks so much for reading, always.
P.S. The Rest of Us Just Live Here is out on the 27th of August, you can pre-order it here.
P.P.S. You can follow Patrick Ness on Twitter here.
P.P.P.S (is that a thing?) I feel like the reference to blowing up the high school could be a Buffy thing, and if it is then YAY.